Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Christmas 2012

This Christmas was spent in London without Grant as he's in NZ. I'll be flying to Sydney via Singapore this Saturday. I can't wait to get out of this weather and arrive new years eve. My sister will have her baby very soon and I'll be an aunt!

I finished a half day at work on Christmas Eve. My colleague and I hit up OXO Tower for a celebratory drink. The view is not bad, shame about the muddy Thames and grey sky. 

The next morning Christmas Day, my girlfriend (who I've known since primary school!) had a special lunch at The Flask in Hampstead. 

In the evening I made vegetarian moussaka for a party. We were all "orphans" so it was sweet that my girlfriends opened up their home to so many guests. We had lots of delicious food and a DJ friend played a wicked dance set.

I'm missing a nose but I still like this photo. As with all Aussie Londoners, this may be the last time we share moments like this together so I'll cherish the memories. 

Let's party, people!

On Boxing Day, I chilled out at home, It was wonderfully relaxing as I listened to arias, made Japanese Okonomiyaki and baked cookies. 

Friday, December 21, 2012

Happy Birthday Grant!

It was a special day and I took Grant out to dinner at his favourite restaurant. Here is a man happy with his food. And seemingly a squirrel on his head.

BBQ duck from Four Seasons in Chinatown. The most succulent and tastiest duck in London. Grant's favourite and I admit, I could never give it up completely (like KFC and seafood). The sauce is pure crack. When served with steamed rice, the taste alone will make your eyeballs instantly roll to the back of your head.

 BBQ pork. It was good but no way as good as the duck. We'll use the leftovers for homemade cheung fun.

 Afterwards we went to Candy Cafe, a cute and cosy oriental cafe. I had the coconut sago dessert with popping passionfruit. The soft orange balls explode releasing yummy passionfruit flavour. 

A birthday pressie from me. Remote controlled helicopter with flashing lights. And it launches missiles. He loves it. Awesome supreme!!!

And my Christmas gift from him. The Nexus 7 tablet, my new toy for being on the go. I like it so far but I'm still a sucker for the Apple interface.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Baking Swedish Polar Bread

I got up this sunny Sunday and made my first batch of Polarbread. As mentioned in a previous post, I love this sweet soft rye bread. I found a recipe from the internet and altered the portions of ingredients to make eight flatbreads. (I did'nt really measure as I went along as otherwise I'd post the recipe.)

The dough was wetter than normal bread dough. To prevent sticking I kneaded with a silicone spatula on a clean glass surface (ie my cooktop). It worked a treat and made dividing easier. I gave the dough an hour for the first rise and shaped into flatbreads.  I made holes with a chopstick and sprinkled on fennel seeds. Gave it 45 mins for the second rise and baked in a very hot oven for 4-5 mins.

They were cooled on a rack and enjoyed with soft cheese and fresh ground pepper. My personal fave is also add a smidgen of marmite, thick slices of really good tomatoes and a sprinkling of sea salt. 


The Polar Bread smelt wonderful and although it's not as airy as the commercial kind, they were just as delicious! 

Saturday, December 15, 2012

It's A Roaring 20s Christmas

Three Christmas parties in a week. No more. I'm feeling bah-humbug now!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

My Prescatarian Journey So Far

I had my work Christmas party last night and as part of tradition, had a sausage sandwich for breakfast. That was until I took a bite and realised the sausage was cold. Gross!

I was then actually thankful to back out of eating meat. So I opted for eggs instead.

So it's been six months since I decided to abstain from eating land animals. I still eat it but very sparingly or when I'm on holidays. It's still not easy as I crave it from time to time and my partner is a believer of eating meat.

But on the plus side, I'm spending less on groceries and eating healthier. I feel great when I've had a vegetarian meal. My meat cravings are satiated by smaller and smaller portions of meat so hopefully one day, I will be a full time prescatarian!

Let me just say there are two meat replacement foods I love.

1) Natto. I can eat it happily everyday, much to the distaste of my partner. It's the only veggie food that replaces the unami I crave from meat.

2) Soya mince. Soak with boiling water, a bit of marmite or bisto and you have instant cooked "mince meat". Perfect for pasta sauces. I served it to my partner and he was none the wiser!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Winter Is Here

As the sun rose, frost on the windows starts to melt. When the trees are bare and your cheeks feel numb outdoors, winter is here.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Foods Of Sweden

I've just come back from Sweden with a few goodies from the supermarket. 

Black caviar. Seafood is abundant in Sweden so it's normal to have caviar in the fridge. You can buy a small jar of black, white or red fish roe for £2 so I took some back in my liquids baggy. A guilty secret is that I nibble on this stuff on it's own. It's like having tiny explosions of briney goodness in your mouth. 

Kalles is a popular squeezable spread made from salmon and tastes like creamy fish roe. It's common to eat it with boiled eggs or toast and it's delicious. Sadly I could'nt take this to London as I had hand luggage only and the tube is huge. I'm told Waitrose sells it so fingers crossed I can buy it in London.
I normally avoid carbs but I make an exception for Swedish bread because it's all natural and nutritious. In fact I rarely see white bread except for polar bread which I totally adore. Its super delicious and addictive. I'd put up a pic of this amazingly soft and sweet flatbread but I ate it :( This is their rye bread which is healthier and packed with flavour. 

Swedish candies are cool too. I brought back Dumle which is really popular in Sweden but found out that it's orginally from Finland. These are soft caramels dipped in chocolate. I could eat the whole bag in one sitting.

Princess cake is made with layers of sponge, whipped cream, custard, jam and covered in a thin layer of marzipan. So light and fluffy, I can easily eat more than one slice at a time. The cake got it's name because it was a favourite of a princess of Sweden. I tried it for fika (tea/coffee break) in Stockholm and fell madly in love!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

On The Way To Sweden

Finally something I've always dreamed of-wifi on a plane. All flights should have this!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

London Weekend Round Up

Had Saturday breakfast on Bermondsey Street and saw this whimsical children's store.

It was a rainy cold morning that only a visiting foreigner could get kicks out of. Simply because it's not their own climate.

Chinatown at sunset 4pm. I'm amazed and disappointed with the early sunsets nowadays.

A palette of autumn colours. Sunday morning on my street.

Took G out for breakfast at The Diner in Camden. I had the Cuban sandwich, he had the hash and cajun fries. Comfort food at best.

G is in Johannesburg for a week and a half for work and then a safari. It will be an adventure, especially since J-burg is a relatively dangerous city. Miss him already :(

Budapest - The Szechenyi Spa and Tourist Experience

1) Thermal Spas:
If you come to Budapest, you must visit atleast one of the thermal spas. I went to Szechenyi which is huge and stunning. You need half a day minimum to enjoy it. 

Skip the treatments offered by the English speaking representative in the foyer and buy them from the ticket counter. You want the real Hungarian experience for less than half the price and it's what the locals get. 

For £30, I got a simple pedicure, 45 minute massage and entry into the indoor thermal spa. A bargain pamper, however no one speaks fluent English or English at all. All signs are in Hungarian so good luck. You will be given a waterproof wrist tag which allows you to enter and lock/unlock your cabin or locker. It has your treatments recorded so the staff knows what you've paid for. 

Expect to get lost through the maze of changing cabins (which you can hire) as you pass the turnstile. Hiring a locker is perfectly fine and requires less awkward interaction with the staff waiting around to help. There are electronic machines on the walls to read your tag however they're in Hungarian so again, good luck.

I got lost for my pedicure and entered a dead quiet room of treatment cubicles looking like a hospital in the fifties. I just stood there dumbfounded. Lucky a woman showed up and asked if I needed help in English. She checked what I had paid for on my wrist tag and told me to wait.  Another woman showed up, took me to a locked sterile looking room and signalled for me to take off my shoes as she prepared for my feet to be soaked. Ten minutes later she ushered me onto a medical chair and unveiled her trolley of tools...

Yep, those a scalpels. Where the hell where the aromatherapy oils and foot files??? She picked up a sharp glinting tool and took hold of my foot. At that point I was terrified, wishing like crazy that I could speak Hungarian to make sure I was getting a pedicure and not some kind of surgery. 

She started to pare at my feet as if she peeling an apple and a massive amount of dead skin fell away. I could feel the blade scraping but nothing too close. She made me lift my foot towards my head (glad I was wearing jeans) to get to the back of my heel. I could only comply under duress of the swift moving blade. 

Suddenly a man with a moustache enters the room dressed in white. He watches closely with great interest. I'm speechless at the spectacle of me holding my leg in an unlady-like manner while my skin shavings piled up on the tiled floor. He talks to the woman in Hungarian and says to me in English: "She says your feet are very very dry. You need to use foot cream." 

There was no nail painting but that's OK. The pedicure was over and the woman vacuumed my shavings and ushered me outside to wait for my masseuse. A tall man appears. We go into one of the treatment cubicles and there is basically only enough room to move around a hard massage table. (Not the cushioned type with a hole for your face.) He tried to tell me to take off my clothes but I did'nt know to what extent. At that point I'm trying to tell him I want a female masseuse but we had no understanding of each other. He left the cubicle momentarily so I could take off my top and lie down with a sheet over my top half. He enters, uncovers me, squirts oil on his hands and starts massaging my back. 

I'm pleasantly surprised as he's actually really good. In 10 secs I was relaxed like a mound of plasticine. His hands were strong and worked magic. In fact he knew my kinked, stressed out back better than I did!

Afterwards I got to sit in the thermal spas. The warmest ones were the most crowded and if you can get over sitting at close proximity with people of different ages, sizes and body hair coverage, then it's a relaxing experience.

2) Walking:
You will see this woman up in the hills of Buda. From Pest, cross the bridge closest and walk uphill towards her. It's a hard climb but the view is totally worth it. 

A bit foggy from the rain that day, but you get the picture.

Waterfall at the bottom.

3) Nightlife:
Pest is where it's at. Whether you're in it for the cheap and plentiful booze or for a wild stag/hen night, Budapest is perfect. Just be careful crossing the roads at night. Most drivers ignore pedestrians trying to cross and drive very fast.

4) The Danube River. Beautiful, enough said.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Annecy - Cycling Around The Lake

The next morning Taiwanese friend and I went to the Tuesday farmers markets in the old town.

Stalls lined the streets with piles of cheese wheels, many robuchon, a specialty of the area and others which appeared to have soil caked on the outside.

Everyone had come to buy fresh produce, bread and cured meat. The streets were lined with stalls and were bustling.

After grabbing a raclette baguette, we walked around Lake Annecy. It rained hard. At one stage it was hailing tiny pebbles.

Taiwanese friend was squealing with delight as she had only seen snow the day before for the first time and now hail.

The grey clouds looked like they were finished doing their thing. We hired bikes and rode around the lake, looking splendid in it's clear blue attire.

Then sun came out and the world was beautiful again!

We passed many enviable alpine houses. It was stunning and tranquil, the type of place I'd want to be stay to write my memoirs one day.

We saw cows in a meadow wearing bells around their necks. Just like on souvenirs of alpine country! It sounded like a windchime symphony. No wonder they look so contented.

We rode for four hours and although Taiwanese friend felt there were some hairy moments on the bike, she said she felt like a kid again. I think I did too.

We dropped the bikes off and went back to the hostel. My time in Annecy was complete. It was a place I never expected to go to. It just happened to be where I connected the dots on the map from Lyon.

I took a bus to Geneva as strangely there weren't any direct trains (it's only 40 minutes away by car). I arrived three hours early for my flight and was floored by how expensive everything was there. A 16 CHF Burger King meal was actually a bargain in comparison to everything else.

Atleast I got a free mug, not that I needed it. I turned to the woman next to me and offered it to her. She looked sad earlier and was grateful to accept it. She said she was collecting for her kids.

She was from the Philippines and works in the airport hotel for the past 30 years. She is widowed and wanted to move back home because her pension won't cover her living in Switzerland. She retires next year and everything is too expensive.

I was reminded that not everyone here is wealthy or middle class. Some people just get by.

I was sad to board my flight. It's back to reality in London. The sound of British youngsters on my flight (girls with too much makeup and not enough enunciation) induces the feeling I can only describe as "balls retracting in cold water"*

Farewell sweet Annecy, land of hot cheese and a beautiful blue lake.

*I should point out that I've ever experienced this in real life.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Annecy-Unlike Venice Because It's Better

Staying in hostels is like speed dating for friends. You're forced to share a room and if things go well, you have an instant friend!

I made two friends and walked one of them to the train station in the morning. She's Chinese and is fluent in French, aspiring to work for the United Nations.

The other is Taiwanese and she went to Chamonix for the day. (There is snow on the mountain tops so that must have been a winter wonderland.)

After seeing my friend off, I walked around the old town. At first I thought it was nice but it gets better and better. Annecy is famous for its canals and it's clear water gushes at rapid speed from Lake Annecy.

I followed the canals taking photos non-stop. Annecy is seriously the most picturesque place I've ever been to in France. Not a single ugly spot. Just stunning old buildings, churches and the fascinating canals. If there's one nearby, you will hear it because the water moves fast. Not even the swans ride the little rapids!

Another plus is that Annecy is'nt sprawling with tourists. Atleast not while I was there.

I walked aimlessly around soaking up the sights. It was glorious.

It started rain so I bought a pair of ankle boots (as most people do) and went back to the hostel to chill out.

Taiwanese friend gave me a special tea bought from Paris. I enjoyed the brew while typing away on the couch. I'm actually now surrounded by random french people watching TV and there are moments when we were all watching something funny and laughing together.

I love traveling.